Fifteen-year-old Indian American Gitanjali Rao from Colorado has been named TIME Magazine’s first-ever ‘Kid of the Year 2020.’ She was selected from a field of more than 5,000 nominees. This brilliant young scientist was named first-ever ‘Kid of the Year’ for her “astonishing work using technology to tackle issues ranging from contaminated drinking water to opioid addiction and cyberbullying.” She was interviewed by actor and activist Angelina Jolie for the TIME special.
“The world belongs to those who shape it. And however uncertain that world may feel at a given moment, the reassuring reality seems to be that each new generation produces more of what these kids have already achieved: positive impact, in all sizes,” Time said.
Who is Gitanjali Rao?
Gitanjali Rao is an American inventor, author, and STEM promoter. She won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in 2017. She was recognized as Forbes 30 U 30 for her innovations. Her name is included in the TIME Top 7 Young Inventors in 2020 for her innovations and “innovation workshops.”
In 2018, Rao, a 3-time TEDx Speaker was honored with the United States Environmental Protection Agency President’s Environmental Youth Award. In May 2019 she was awarded the Top ‘Health’ Pillar Prize for the TCS Ignite Innovation Student Challenge for developing a diagnostic tool based on advances in genetic engineering for early diagnosis of prescription opioid addiction.
What did Gitanjali Rao Invent?
She has developed Kindly, a phone and Web tool. It uses artificial intelligence technology to detect possible early signs of cyberbullying.
“You type in a word or phrase, and it’s able to pick it up if it’s bullying, and it gives you the option to edit it or send it the way it is. The goal is not to punish. As a teenager, I know teenagers tend to lash out sometimes. Instead, it gives you the chance to rethink what you’re saying so that you know what to do next time around”, Rao, told TIME.
According to Gitanjali, her generation is facing many problems that they have never seen before.
“But then at the same time, we’re facing old problems that still exist. Like, we’re sitting here in the middle of a new global pandemic, and we’re also like still facing human-rights issues. There are problems that we did not create but that we now have to solve, like climate change and cyberbullying with the introduction of technology,” Rao, told TIME.
“I think more than anything right now, we just need to find that one thing we’re passionate about and solve it. Even if it’s something as small as, I want to find an easy way to pick up litter. Everything makes a difference. Don’t feel pressured to come up with something big,”
Kindly and Other Passions
Speaking about the beginning of her journey as a scientist and inventor, Gitanjali Rao said:
“That was my everyday goal, just to make someone happy. And it soon turned into, how can we bring positivity and community to the place we live? And then when I was in second or third grade, I started thinking about how can we use science and technology to create social change.”
She has also collaborated with rural schools, women in STEM organizations, museums all across the world, and bigger organizations like Shanghai International Youth Science and Technology group and the Royal Academy of Engineering in London to run “innovation workshops.” She believes in working on the principle of “observe, brainstorm, research, build, communicate.”
‘It’s Not Easy When You Don’t See Anyone Else Like You’
While speaking to TIME on her innovation and the vast scope for science and technology, Gitanjali expressed,
“If I can do it, you can do it, and anyone can do it.”
“Everything I see on TV is that it’s an older, usually white man as a scientist. It’s weird to me that it was almost like people had assigned roles, regarding like their gender, their age, the color of their skin.”
Lastly, When TIME asked if she does things that kids of her age do, she said,
“actually I spend more time doing 15-year-old things during the quarantine. I bake an ungodly amount. It’s not good, but it’s baking. And, like, it’s science too.”